31 January 2010

Weekend Book Review - The Beekeeper's Apprentice


It took me a couple of chapters to get really into the book, but it gradually took hold, and I really enjoyed the story.

I liked the depiction of Sherlock Holmes, staying mostly true to the original. I liked the idea of him taking on a young apprentice who happens to be a woman, and all the possibilities attached to that. The cases they work on together were interesting, the solutions clever. At first, it was a little hard to buy into the 15 year old apprentice, but as the relationship developed over time, it bothered me less. I really liked the subtle romance in the background. It added an extra dimension, perhaps not terribly unusual or unique but intriguing.
The descent of Russel into drama queen at the end was a little annoying, but perhaps was necessary to develop the affectionate side of Holmes. Not sure about that. 

The author seems to be pretty well read as there were many literary, musical and historical references, as well as scientific analysis of bees, forensics, etc. Those things add depth and interest to the story.

Happy weekend reading!

29 January 2010

Thrifty Thursday

How many of you spend way too much money on birthday parties for your kids? My sister and I decided a few years ago that we were going to have the best ever, most memorable birthday bashes for our kids, and we were going to do it ourselves (cheap).

For this thrifty Thursday, I present The Totally Gross Birthday.

Boy (or very unique girl)
Ages: 8-11
Cost: less than $30 not counting food. 
Inspired by the book Gross Me Out! 50 Nasty Projects to Disgust Your Friends and Repulse Your Family by Ralph Retcher and Betty Lou Poo, this party was a hit with our 9 year-old boy and his friends.
Using the book or the internet (Activity Village, Craftbits, Family Fun) choose your totally gross activities. We chose poop soap, slime, and fake wounds.
One small bottle of Glycerin ($7), A couple of bottles Elmer's glue ($5 or less if you buy when school supplies are on sale), food coloring ($5 - unless you already have some in your cupboard), Borax ($2-3 - again, you might have some in your laundry room), Microwaveable clear glycerin soap ($10) Ziploc baggies to hold the slime and poop soap.
Invitation: homemade - make your own with whatever you have.
Birthday Cake:

Naturally we drank red (blood) punch with "fly" ice cubes (put water in your ice cube trays as usual and drop a couple of raisins in each one, freeze, they look amazingly like flies trapped in ice). Party favors? They got to keep their poop soap, and the local $1 store had some plastic fingers and eyeball bouncy balls.

A great time was had by all, and only a few of the guests were truly "grossed out".

28 January 2010

It's All About Fabric Designers

There are some truly amazing designers who are offering their fabrics in online shops. 

Out of Australia:

My favorite print from Danielle Stewart Designs   (yes, I bought some) is Spring Birds. What should I make with it? Leave a comment with your idea!

On my wish list from Umbrella Prints  is Birds in Paradise

In the USA:

Oooh, Painted Flowers Hand painted and oh so lovely.


It was hard to choose a favorite in this charming shop. They can also be found at Repeat where you will be able to find links to retailers worldwide who carry their designs. I finally chose Aqua Jars.

And last, but not least, out of the UK:

I love everything in this shop. Since Valentine's Day is coming, Sweetheart seemed appropriate.


What do you love? What would you make with one of these offerings?
Happy sewing! 

27 January 2010

Tuesday Tutorial

I have a great desire to give my family meaningful Valentines this year. Preferably something that will keep on giving. I thought that since last week's tutorial was for a (Valentine's) Mailbox, this week I would make some Valentines to put in it.

First, the Hearts Hanging Everywhere, which can also be found in my Etsy shop. You can make them using my tutorial! This is my first time publishing a tutorial, and there is a definite learning curve, so forgive me in advance...
Kid Friendly: If you cut out the heart shapes, kids about 6 and older could probably do most of the sewing. The finished product is meant to be a little primitive, not perfect.

*tracing paper
*small heart shapes in two sizes for pattern (I used cookie cutters)
*paper scissors
*fabric scissors
*assorted scraps of pink, red and white cotton prints
*batting scraps
*backing fabric (I used corduroy scraps, you can use flannel or cotton, or anything you like)
*embroidery floss that coordinates with your cotton prints
*red, white and pink beads
*beading wire

First, trace your heart shapes on paper and cut them out. 

 Use this as your pattern to cut one heart of each size from your cotton prints.

Using the pattern for the smaller heart, cut one from the batting.

Using the pattern for the larger heart, cut one from the backing material.

Using the needle and embroidery floss, embroider a cute sentiment (like the candy hearts) on the smaller heart. This is optional, but fun. I embroidered kuss (German for kiss).

Layer the pieces wrong sides together, starting with the backing piece, then the larger cotton print heart, the batting and then the smaller cotton print heart. Pin in the middle somewhere you won't get poked too much. 

Stitch all the hearts together using a running stitch and sewing along the inside edge of the smaller heart, completely encasing the batting. Repeat around the inside edge of the larger hearts.

Cut a length of wire and secure one end between the front and back. I did this by running the wire between the two larger heart layers and around a stitch. I then wrapped the wire end around itself and covered it with beads.

String beads onto the wire until the length is covered, leaving enough room at the end to secure the other end in between the front and back as shown. 

Ta-Da! A Hanging Valentine.

Another Valentine tutorial that you might enjoy can be found at  Sew Mama Sew and is created by Jennifer Casa of JCasa Handmade whose blog I enjoy very much.

Happy (lovey) Valentine crafting!

25 January 2010

Monday Mixes

What inspired me this weekend? 

Families with children who have special needs. My husband and I both have cousins with Downs Syndrome. I have friends who have Autistic children and a friend whose son has Mosaic Down Syndrome. 
We were blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with my husband's cousin. We went to baseball games, we traveled to his birthday party every year, we watched movies and sang karaoke. He and our son were the best of friends even though they were about 29 years apart in age. He passed away a few years ago, at the age of 36. He inspired me. He graduated from high school, held a full time job, enjoyed hanging out with his friends and playing baseball. I miss him. My life was blessed by his courage and strength. 

The T21 Traveling Afghan 

An Afghan, traveling the world to visit children with Downs Syndrome and give them each a hug. A big hug to the lady who organized this effort and is keeping it going!

I am also inspired by people who are fighting cancer or who have survived cancer, and their families. 

Head Huggers 
Almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from cancer. I have several friends who are breast cancer survivors, and last summer I lost a dear friend who fought her cancer for 8 long years. I was inspired by her courage, and her consistant care and concern for others in the midst of her own suffering. Can you knit or crochet? Head Huggers is a great place to volunteer your time. Find your local chapter, or start one!

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Ghandi

24 January 2010

Weekend Book Review - The Help

This is one of the best books I've read in awhile. The Help depicts the lives of black maids in white households in Mississippi during the 1960's. I don't think it's quite up there with To Kill A Mockingbird, but I thought the characters were interesting and the story really caught my imagination.

Obviously there are compelling issues of race throughout the book, but I was particularly caught by the issues of relationships between employers and employees.  I was extremely curious to hear how the author (a white woman) felt about the risks of taking on a story  and a voice that was not white. In her note at the end of the book, the author quotes Howell Raines "There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism."  She tells her own story of growing up with a black maid, and for me, that really made the story authentic.

It's a good story, well written, and hard to put down. The characters stay with you. It's definitely worth a read. You can find more reviews at Goodreads and at Amazon.

22 January 2010

Thrifty Thursday

I intended to post early this morning, but ended up going on the Kindergarten field trip instead. I've been gone all day, and got home with tired, hungry kids to a husband who is home with a cold (conveniently contracted at first mention of attending a rodeo with 75 Kindergartners). Not that it wasn't fun. Cowboys and funnel cakes are basic ingredients for fun.

This is the kind of day that does not end with a good wholesome homemade meal - unless you have dinner in the freezer!

I love to cook. As I mentioned before though, I do not love to cook dinner every night. Especially after an already long day. Therefore, I love to make food and put it in my freezer. Usually I make food my family likes (spaghetti, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, burritos) and make a lot extra. Then you have some for dinner, and some for the freezer. If you are not sure what to make, there are several cookbooks that will give you a good start. The Freezer Cooking Manual is one that I like, and I have heard good things about Don't Panic - Dinner's In the Freezer.

When I first began putting dinners in the freezer, I did what they recommend in The Freezer Cooking Manual. I cooked all day for two days, and then had meals for at least 30 days. I don't do that anymore. It was too crazy. Maybe later in life when I can spend two days doing nothing but cooking, and am not interrupted by soccer, swimming, potty training, etc. I'll do that again. Right now I just make lots of whatever I'm making and freeze the leftovers. 

Confession: I also take those Papa Murphy's coupons for a 1-topping Large pizza for $5.99 limit 3, and buy 3 pepperoni and I put them in the freezer. Even though it's better to get them out at lunch time to thaw,  we have cooked them frozen and it works just fine.

Tonight we are very thankful for burritos from the freezer, paired with chopped lettuce, sour cream and salsa we canned last summer with tomatoes and peppers from our garden. YUM! Even better, I have help in the kitchen. 

How is this thrifty? You ate at home! You used healthy ingredients to make meals that end up costing pennies because you made it in bulk. Doesn't that feel good!

21 January 2010

It's All About Knit and Crochet

We've had a tiny taste of warmer weather the last week, and now winter is starting to feel a little long. Are you looking for something cozy and fun to get you through to Spring? Check out the knit and crochet offerings from the following shops. So talented with the needles (one or two).



Then there's the hat. So many hats to choose from. Here are my three favorites for this week.

Happy looking, happy shopping!

20 January 2010

Tuesday Tutorial

Perfect for Valentines Day - The Fabric Mailbox!

This tutorial is not my own but is one I found and tried. It was fun, and pretty easy. To make this craft, you will need a sewing machine and some sewing machine savvy - or a friend with both.

For the very well done tutorial please visit Givers Log.

I found the directions easy to follow and the pictures very helpful. I am pretty happy with the results. Mine is not quite as pretty as the one in the tutorial, but it's cute, and my daughter is thrilled. When I make my next one (yes I'm doing it again!) I will do a couple of things differently. I think I will try to put the magnet for the flag on before I sew up the box. It was kind of hard to get the pliers in there to flatten the tabs. I might try putting floral wire in the door as well as the box opening so that I can adjust both.


Now I just need to fill it up with love notes.

19 January 2010

Monday Mixes

Anything and everything that inspired me over the weekend.

To help earthquake victims in Haiti please go to Craft Hope for Haiti Etsy Shop 

among my favorite listings are:

Coming up February 20, 2010:  Make a Blanket Day (MABD) on the third Saturday in February each year. Our next event is set for Saturday, February 20, 2010. Every year, participating chapter coordinators around the country band together to make blankets and spread the Project Linus word. Some may have blanket making events, open houses, collection sites, etc. Please contact your local chapter for more information about local activities.

I love to cook, but I don't love to cook just everyday "I have to make dinner" kinds of meals. So, to shake things up, we try new recipes and flavors. A new favorite at our house is the bento.
This week I like lunchinabox and my kids LOVED the potsticker bento.

photo from lunchinabox.net

Sometimes I see a swatch of fabric, or a bundle of yarn, and I just want to drop everything and make something out of it. A fabric and a yarn that grabbed me that way recently:

Sweet Jane organic cotton sateen by Harmony Art found here
Herb Garden found here

That's all for now. Be well, be inspired, be happy!